January 26, 2011

The evolution of Charlie Manuel.

The Internet has swallowed up all of my pre-2008 blog posts, but I imagine any Phillies-themed ones from before the 2007 season included at least one rant about how Charlie Manuel sucks as a baseball manager.

His squads perpetually came up short. He had Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, Bartolo Colon, CC Sabathia, Roberto Alomar and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland, but they couldn't make it past the first round of the playoffs. And for a while it looked like his Phillies teams were destined to continue the trend of being slightly above mediocre, never to gaze at the world beyond an 88-win season.

Fast forward to January of 2011, however, and no Philly sports fan would ever dream of thinking anti-Charlie thoughts. Manuel has risen from "country bumpkin" to "annual Manager of the Year candidate" in an unbelievably short amount of time. Five years ago, he was almost run out on a rail. Now, he's essentially the king of Philadelphia baseball.

Sure, we all still love to nitpick his in-game strategy. He's loyal to a fault -- a fact never more evident than when he stuck with Brad Lidge throughout the closer's epically bad 2009 season -- and sometimes he'll rile up the statheads by listening to hunches over statistics.

But the players love him, the fans adore him and even the most hardened baseball scribes have to admit that he's the perfect leader for this team. Plus, there's no arguing with the results: four straight NL East championships, two World Series appearances, two MVPs, one Cy Young winner and one title.

Along with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, he's made Philadelphia a place where stars want to play baseball. Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee chose to become Phillies; Roy Oswalt waved his no-trade clause to be swapped here. A lot of that's winning and a nice ballpark, but it's also a commentary on who's in charge. Players like the idea of playing for Charlie Manuel.

Sometimes I think about all the vitriol spouted at him in the early days, and I can't for the life of me remember why we did it. We were mean to Charlie?! Charlie Manuel, the baseball lifer, good ol' boy and nicest manager in the business?! God, we were dicks. We wanted another Larry Bowa-type so badly that we almost didn't realize how lucky we were.

Rich Hofmann notes today that Manuel's been drawing a baseball-based paycheck for 49 years, and the 67-year-old thinks that he's still got at least three more years left in him. That's just fine with me; plenty of time for a few more championship runs.

"I love living in Philly and I love the fans," Manuel stated during a recent interview on 610-WIP. "I want to go out as a Phillie."

Charlie, we'd like nothing more.

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